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Alternative forms[edit]


common (public) +‎ weal (well-being). From c. 1450, common wele was used as a compound. Rollison (2017) thinks that comun and wele may already have been used in collocation in 14th-century Middle English. By the 1520s used by some authors as the equivalent of res publica (republic), alongside commonwealth from about the same time.


commonweal (plural commonweals)

  1. (obsolete or archaic) The common good; public wellbeing or prosperity
    • 1843 April, Thomas Carlyle, “ch. XIII, In Parliament”, in Past and Present, American edition, Boston, Mass.: Charles C[offin] Little and James Brown, published 1843, →OCLC, book II (The Ancient Monk):
      He had to judge the people as justice Errant […]; to equip his milites, send them duly in war-time to the King; — strive every way that the Commonweal, in his quarter of it, take no damage.
    • 1995 May 21, Steven Levy, “The Unabomber and David Gelernter”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      He yearns for the days when people, for reasons of the commonweal, did what they were told.
  2. The body politic; republic
    • 1531, Thomas Elyot, chapter I, in Ernest Rhys, editor, The Boke Named the Governour [] (Everyman’s Library), London: J[oseph] M[alaby] Dent & Co; New York, N.Y.: E[dward] P[ayson] Dutton & Co, published [1907], →OCLC:
      [...] hit semeth that men haue ben longe abused in calling Rempublica a commune weale. And they which do suppose it so to be called for that, that euery thinge shulde be to all men in commune without discrepance of any astate or condition, be ther to moued more by sensualite, than by any good reason or inclination to humanite. [...] And consequently there may appere lyke deuersitie to be englisshe, betwene a publike weale & a commune weale, as shulde be in latin betwene Res publica and Res plebeia.

Derived terms[edit]


  • David Rollison, A Commonwealth of the People: Popular Politics and England's Long Social Revolution, 1066-1649, Cambridge University Press, (2010), p. 13.
  • David Rollison in: Fitter (ed.), Shakespeare and the Politics of Commoners: Digesting the New Social History, Oxford University Press, (2017), p. 64.